Obama picks State's Psaki to head White House communications team

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State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki will become President Obama's new communications director, filling a key slot as Obama embarks on the final two years of his presidency, White House officials said Thursday.

She replaces veteran Democratic media strategist Jennifer Palmieri, who is leaving the White House to join Hillary Rodham Clinton's likely presidential campaign. Psaki will step into her new role April 1.

In a statement, Obama embraced Palmieri as a "good friend" friend and praised her as a "brilliant and effective communications director and trusted adviser."

"I'd say Jen is irreplaceable - if Jen Psaki hadn't agreed to step in," Obama said. "I fully trust Jen - and I am thrilled she's agreed to come back to the White House as communications director."

Psaki will be returning to the White House where she helped craft Obama's message during the president's first term. She has been part of Obama's team since 2007, when she was traveling press secretary during his first presidential campaign.

The move allows Obama to replace a senior adviser with a familiar aide who is already steeped in issues confronting the White House.

Psaki has become a frequent face of the State Department as spokeswoman for Secretary of State John Kerry, often traveling the world.

Despite occasional contentious exchanges in on-camera briefings, Psaki was well-regarded by the State Department press corps. And although she came from the Obama camp, she was seen as close to Kerry and accurate in conveying his policy positions.

A White House official said Psaki informed Obama and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough that she is expecting a baby in July. The official said Obama and McDonough made a commitment to Psaki to find flexible ways to make her new post work.

Psaki will serve as an assistant to the president, the same status as White House press secretary Josh Earnest.